Farm Bill policy update – One step forward, one step back

It feels like we’re accelerating toward September 30th, the expiration of the current farm bill extension!  That date has always been on the long-term horizon, but until recently there’d been hope of real headway on creating a full five-year bill to replace these short-term solutions.  Congress is back in home-districts for the month of August, so they’ll have only one month to get it done, lest we face a re-enactment of last year’s drama.  

With that mindset, let’s start with the good news:

The Senate announced the members of its conference committee last week for farm bill negotiating.  This is the next logical step in the farm bill process: since both the Senate and the House have passed drafts of the bill, the two drafts get reconciled with each other in conference, and then the resultant bill returns to each chamber for a final vote.  The House’s version, of course, is missing the entire Nutrition title, which covers SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps).

The Senate’s announcement of a committee – which includes Senators Bennet (CO), Brown (OH), Harkin (IA), Klobuchar (MN), Leahy (VT), and Stabenow (MI) on the Democratic side, and Senators Cochran (MS), Roberts (KS), Chambliss (GA), Boozman (AR), and Hoeven (ND) on the Republican side – means that they are all set to begin negotiations.

And now the less-good news:

Rep. Eric Cantor

Rep. Eric Cantor.
Photo courtesy of cantor.house.gov.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and a group of Republican representatives released a proposal for $40 billion in cuts to SNAP funding.  Those cuts represent ten times the amount of cuts in the Senate bill.  The proposal also recommends tightening access to the program, including mandating the exclusion of former convicts and drug-testing for SNAP recipients (a proposal that prompted many to jokingly assert that farm subsidies should carry the same requipment!).

What this proposal means is that even if Cantor’s bill were to pass (which it certainly could, most likely along strict party lines), then the possibility of reconciling the two House bills with the Senate’s bill (which includes SNAP along with the rest of the farm bill titles) is nearly nil.

Rep. Marcia Fudge

Rep. Marcia Fudge, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and an outspoken critic of the cuts.
Picture courtesy of politic365.com.

According to many legislators and experts involved in the proceedings, the proposed cut is really more about derailing the farm bill as a whole than making substantive headway.  In the words of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who met with Rep. Cantor to discuss SNAP cuts, “it was clear to me, it was my sense that he really does not want a bill.” 

The Republican leadership, however, insists that it is making every move possible to finish the farm bill process.  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that the House would be selecting their conference committee early in September.

Regardless, the window is closing quickly on getting a real bill before the end of the current extension, but there is still some time left! 

NYFC will be working with its members and supporters around the country this August to meet with key legislators during the summer recess (so if you receive an email from us regarding a potential visit, now you know why it’s important!).   And if you haven’t joined hundreds of other farmers in taking a stand for SNAP, please sign the pledge today!

We’ve still got a strong chance to see convince Congress to not overlook the next generation in American agriculture, so stay tuned and get ready to make some waves.

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